Causes of the Second World War


a) It has been argued that the Versailles settlement of 1919 sowed seeds for the outbreak of the Second World War. The peace treaty was very unrealistic in its attempt to create a lasting peace, which ploughed ground for the outbreak of war in 1939. It was a dictated treaty that Germany was forced to endorse (sign) without negotiation. The German delegates were not allowed to defend themselves and although they tried to defend themselves in writing, their defense was ignored. The delegates were treated like criminals who were escorted in and outside the hall of mirrors. This created a strong desire for revenge, which partly made Hitler to adopt an aggressive foreign policy that dragged Europe and indeed the world to the holocaust of the Second World War.

b) The Versailles settlement imposed unfair penalties on Germany that left her longing for a war of revenge. The disarmament clause destroyed Germany's navy, air force and reduced her army to 100,000 soldiers armed with 'sticks'. Worst of all, other powers especially France and Britain started rearming themselves. This gave Hitler an excuse to rearm Germany and attack smaller nations like Poland that made the outbreak of the Second World War inevitable.

c) Article 231 of the settlement entirely blamed Germany for the outbreak of World War I and article 232 imposed an impossible sum of 6.6 million dollars as war reparations. This irritated Germany because she was accused and made to pay for a gigantic crime where everybody that fought was guilty. As L.C.B

Seaman puts it; The purpose of the settlement was not to be fair and just to the Germans but to impose drastic penalties upon her. (L.C.B Seamans: 193).

The payment of the reparations suffocated Germany's economy and contributed to the great economic depression of 1929-35. Hitler capitalised on this to rise to power and challenge the Versailles peacemakers which climaxed into the Second World War.

d) The territorial clause denied Germany most of her colonies in Europe, Asia and Africa. Germany lost many of her nationals and resources to the newly created states like Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland.

This was very unrealistic because it also neglected President Woodraw Wilson's principle of self-determination and nationalism. Germany remained aggrieved by the loss of her nationals and resources to the newly created states. Indeed, Hitler's invasion of Austria, Czechoslovakia and Poland (that sparked off the war) were partly to liberate the Germans who were deliberately scattered in Europe by the peacemakers. This is why TAYLOR argues that; The Guns which saluted the signing of the settlement opened the Second World War.

e) Nevertheless, it was not only Germany that came out of the Versailles settlement with a quest for revenge. Italy and Japan that had fought on the side of the triple entente against triple alliance were very disappointed by their rewards. Japan regarded the rewards of a few Islands and some parts of China as poor compensations for her role and complained bitterly of being treated as an unequal at Versailles. This is why Japan occupied Manchuria, conquered more areas and quitted the League of Nations by 1933. Italy also complained of poor compensation and it was a common talk in Rome that, "Italy had won the war but lost the peace". This is partly why Orlando left the conference in protest and Mussolini invaded Ethiopia in 1935. Thus, the unfairness of the Versailles peacemakers to fellow allies made Italy and Japan to join

Germany and form the Rome-Tokyo-Berlin axis. This strengthened the desire for revenge and was responsible for a series of aggression by the axis powers that climaxed in the invasion of Poland and the Second World War.


Appeasement policy has been very much blamed for causing the Second World War. It was a deliberate move to satisfy the demands of aggressive powers provided that they were within the boundaries of reality and common sense. The policy was based on dialogue and compromise as opposed to violence as a solution to axis aggression. This is because there was a general feeling that the Versailles treaty was very unfair to the axis powers and that they should not be opposed if the Second World War was to be avoided.

Neville Chamberlain of Britain started the policy in collaboration with France. He argued that; another major war could be avoided by pleasing aggressive powers like Germany.

It was due to this policy that no military action was taken against Japan when she occupied Manchuria (1931), Mussolini when he invaded Ethiopia (1935) and on Hitler when he invaded the Rhine lands (1936), Austria (1938) and Czechoslovakia (1938). Appeasement reached its' climax in the Munich conference of

Sept. 1938 (Metternich agreement) where Chamberlain, the British Prime Minister and Deladier, the French Prime Minister accepted Germany's annexation of Sudetenland (part of Czechoslovakia) and Hitler promised that he would not make any other territorial demand or wage any more aggression.

Unfortunately, success and absence of military intervention gave Hitler and his allies a false impression that the appeasers were cowards and would never fight them whatever the provocation. It is this feeling that encouraged Hitler to invade Poland and refuse to withdraw as demanded by Britain and France. This set the world ablaze in the holocaust of the Second World War.

Appeasement policy gave Hitler a "breathing space" time to re organise Germany and ally with Italy and

Japan. The lack of intervention against aggression caused by appeasement policy was used by Hitter to strengthen Germany economically and militarily in preparation for war. It should be emphasised that Hitler's occupation of Rhine lands, annexation of Austria and Czechoslovakia increased Germany's economic and military strength, which encouraged him to invade Poland that triggered off the war. On the other hand, he used it to strengthen diplomatic relations and form the Roma-Berlin- Tokyo axis. The re organisation of Germany and formation of axis alliance made appeasement policy a boomerang/ backfire that led to the outbreak of the Second World War.

Appeasement policy undermined the League of Nations leading to the collapse of international diplomacy.

It contradicted the idea of collective security making the league unable to act against Fascist and Nazis aggressions, because Britain and France who were pursuing the policy were the most influential members in the League of Nations. This made the Fascists and Nazis to embark on a series of aggression without fear of reaction from the league.

Besides, appeasement policy contributed to the rise of Mussolini and Hitler to power and consequently the spread of Fascism and Nazism in Europe. Mussolini and Hitler opposed and fought against the spread of communism and socialism from Russia. On the other hand, Britain and France were also threatened by the spread of socialism and communism since the Russian revolutions of 1917. This made Britain and France to indirectly support Fascist and Nazis aggression through appeasement policy. They calculated that Fascism and Nazism would destroy communism and socialism, which would also leave the Fascists and Nazis weakened and exhausted. Unfortunately, the Fascists and Nazis waged a series of aggression under the guise of fighting communism, gained strength and provoked the outbreak of World War II by 1939.

NB. It has to be rewinded back that Britain and France decided to appease Germany and her allies because of the unfairness of the Versailles treaty. Otherwise, if the Versailles settlement was realistic, Germany and her allies would have possibly reconciled and there would be no appeasement policy and thus the outbreak of war in 1939.


The resurrection of alliance system in the inter war period cannot be neglected in the outbreak of World War 11. Italy, Germany and Japan formalized the Rome-Berlin -Tokyo axis in 1937. Britain, France, USA, Belgium and Poland formed the allied or democratic powers. These alliances were based on divergent and conflicting ideologies. The allied powers were struggling to promote democracy while the axis powers were propagating and promoting totalitarianism/dictatorship. These ideologies were very incompatible and that is why the German invasion of Poland was magnified into the Second World War due to ideological differences. Once again, the alliance system had divided Europe into two hostile and antagonistic camps that made the Second World War inevitable.

NB. It has to be noted that the revival of alliance system in the inter war period can be traced to the Versailles settlement of 1919. Germany, Italy and Japan that formed the Rhome-Berlin-Tokyo axis were birds of the same feathers who were cheated or unfairly treated at the Versailles settlement. It was therefore only a matter of time that the three powers converged with a common aim of revenging against the signatories of the settlement. This also forced the "Versailles powers" to form the democratic alliance as a counter measure to the axis alliance.


Like World War I, arms race also contributed to the outbreak of the Second World War. Hitler got an excuse to rearm Germany because other powers did not disarm but were instead rearming themselves secretly. He (Hitler) argued that ….because other powers had not disarmed as they had promised, it was wrong to keep Germany helpless. It made Germany to embark on an intensive rearmament progamme.

Consequently, Hitler started a grand scheme of conscripting 500,000 men into the German armed force.

He modernised the German air force and it became one of the strongest in the world. The same challenge was taken by Japan and Italy. This made the axis powers to be confident of themselves and adopted an aggressive foreign policy that climaxed into the Second World War. On the other hand, Britain and France could not just sit back and watch these developments. They reacted by adopting a large-scale rearmament programme in which factories produced guns, tanks and fighter planes as fast as they could. Each power became anxious to display its military might and shopped for an opportunity which came through the German invasion of Poland.

NB. It was the desire to destroy the disarmament clause of the Versailles settlement that made Hitler to rearm Germany, which triggered arms race and the Second World War. Otherwise, if the Versailles peacemakers had enforced general disarmament as stipulated in the Versailles settlement, Hitler would not have got an excuse to rearm Germany, which could have maintained some relative stability in Europe.


The weakness of the League of Nations as a peacekeeping body also shares responsibility for the outbreak of the Second World War. The activities of the League of Nations was monopolised by Britain and France who unfortunately undermined it by pursuing appeasement policy. The League failed to enforce general disarmament which provided Hitler with an opportunity to rearm German and provoke the war. Besides, the League had no army of its own and it was considered "a toothless backing bull dog". Although article 16 provided that member states should send troops if necessary, a resolution was passed in 1923 that each country was free to decide whether or not to fight in a crisis situation. This gave ceremonial burial to the idea of collective security, which facilitated aggression in Europe. Donald Kegan argues that.

Hitler's path was made easier by growing evidence that the League of Nations was ineffective

as advice for keeping peace and that collective security was a myth (Donald Kegan, p 936).

In other words, the weaknesses of the League of Nations encouraged Hitler's aggression in Europe that drove the world into the Second World War. By 1939, all the axis powers had pulled out of the League of Nations which made it even more difficult to restrain their aggression.

NB. However, a logical flashback reveals that the League of Nations was an offspring of the Versailles settlement (Woodrow Wilson's 14th point). Its role amongst others was to defend the Versailles settlement.

To Clemenceau, the best use of the league was as an "instrument for perpetuating the peace settlement .In fact, the weaknesses and failures of the League of Nations became a foregone conclusion because of being associated with the unrealistic Versailles treaty.


The effect of Economic depression also played a role in the outbreak of the Second World War. The slump/depression caused a global political, social and economic crisis. This gave an opportunity for Hitler to rise to power. As other countries were busy handling the problems caused by the depression, Germany used the opportunity to rearm herself. She devoted most of her resources to the army, navy and force.

This was because America was forced out of European affairs while Britain and France went into 'hiding to reorganise their economies. This left Hitler with no serious threat since the League of Nations was even weakened by the depression.

The depression also made some powers to resort to aggression as a way of securing raw materials and markets. Mussolini urged the Italians to be war like and resurrect the former Roman Empire if they were to survive the depression. He became practical when he invaded Ethiopia in 1935. Economic crisis also forced Japan to invade Manchuria in 1931 in order to exploit coal and silk. Hitler's invasions of Austria, Czechoslovakia, Rhine lands and Poland were partly for market and economic prosperity.

Economic depression destroyed international relations which degenerated into the Second World War. It made nations to protect their markets through protectionism and high tariffs, which increased tension and hostility that gradually graduated into the Second World War.

NB. However, a critical analysis reveals that the reparations and territorial clauses of the Versailles settlement contributed significantly to the depression. In fact the serious economic crisis that Germany faced from 1919 to 1939 was rooted in the Versailles peace treaty.


The rise and role of dictators and aggressors undermined world peace and led to the outbreak of the Second World War. In the inter war period, militants like Mussolini of Italy, Hitler of Germany, Hirohito of Japan and General Franco of Spain overthrew democratic governments and created autocratic governments based on blood and iron policy. The dictators converged in the Rome-Berlin-Tokyo axis and embarked on foreign aggression that was intended to promote dictatorship and destroy democracy. It created a struggle by democratic powers like Britain, France and USA to contain such aggressions, stop the growing influence of dictatorship and consolidate democracy in Europe. This created fear, panic, suspicion and hatred that exploded into war in the aftermath of German invasion of Poland. To this extent, it is justifiable to argue that the Second World War was in fact a struggle between two contradictory ideologies.


The rise and growth of nationalism in Europe also conditioned the outbreak of the Second World War. The Versailles peacemakers of 1919 were guided by their selfish national interests at the expense of German nationalism. Consequently, German nationals were scattered in the newly created states like Austria, Czechoslovakia, Sudetenland and Poland. The scattered Germans were incited by propaganda from the Germans in Germany (Hitler inclusive) to demand either for reunion with their mother country or full independence. The Germans and Hitler argued that it was double standards to subject Germans foreign control when the First World War was fought for self-determination i.e. Independence of nations. This provided Hitler with a convenient pretext to annex Austria, Czechoslovakia, Sudetenland and Poland, which led to the outbreak of the Second World War.


Imperialism also accounts for the outbreak of the Second World War. Britain and France manipulated the Versailles Settlement of 1919 to satisfy their imperial desires and undermine defeated powers most especially Germany. They distributed German colonies in Asia and Africa amongst themselves using the mandate commission of the League of Nations. The need to compensate the loss of German territories and influence made Germany to embark on a series of aggression that climaxed into the invasion of Poland and the outbreak of the Second World War. Alongside Germany, Japan and Italy also had burning desires to expand their territories and influence which explains why Japan invaded Chinese territory of Manchuria and Italy occupied Ethiopia. This forced France and Russia to sign an agreement in 1935 to check on German, Japanese and Italian imperialism. Thus Imperialism led to fear, suspicion, antagonism and aggression that made the outbreak of World War II inevitable.


World War II was also caused by anti-Semitic / racial feelings and activities against the Jews in Italy and Germany. The Nazis led by Hitler and Fascists under Mussolini's leadership had a grand programme to exterminate/Wipe out the Jews from Germany and Italy respectively. Consequently, the Jews were harassed, persecuted and massacred by Nazis and Fascist hardliners. It was opposed and condemned by France, Britain, Russia and USA. This is what amongst other reasons attracted these powers to join the War against Germany when she invaded and occupied Poland.


Press propaganda was also responsible for the outbreak of the Second World War. The mass media in Germany and Poland caused war fever by over exaggerating atrocities committed by each other. Hitler used the German newspapers and radio stations to exaggerate the persecution of the 2.5million Germans in Poland. This incited the Germans in Germany and those in Poland against Polish authorities. The Polish newspapers and radios also magnified the threats of German government and German's in Poland against the Polish government. Press propaganda created suspicion, fear, panic and tension that were used by Germany to attack Poland. It should also be noted that press reports about the atrocities committed by German soldiers in the event of invasion of Poland is what terrified other powers, like Britain, Russia and France to join the war against Germany.


The threat of communism in Western Europe also contributed to the outbreak of the Second World War.

After the Russian revolution of 1917, communism spread to Eastern Europe and started threatening Western Europe by 1939. Communist influence set in a struggle by workers and peasants against exploitation and segregation. This favoured the rise of dictators and their aggressions in Europe. Hitler of

Germany, Mussolini of Italy and Hirohito of Japan took advantage of the fear of communism amongst western capitalist countries and launched a series of aggressions in the 1930's. They did it under the pretext of fighting communism, which went un opposed up to 1938. It should be stressed that Britain and France considered Fascist and Nazis aggressions a lesser evil than communist threat and that partly explains why they pursued appeasement policy, which is one of the factors responsible for the outbreak of the second world war.


The Spanish civil war was an event that led to the outbreak of the Second World War. The Spanish monarchy was overthrown in 1931 and replaced by a republican government. The leaders of the ousted monarchy including General Franco fled to South America. In 1935, General Franco moved to North America from where he coordinated a rebellion against the republican government. From 1936-39 there was a disastrous confrontation between General Franco's rebels supported by Italy and Germany against the republican government supported by Russia and foreign mercenary forces from several European countries including Britain, USA and France. The war ended in 1939 with the overthrow of the Republican government by General Franco who established a Fascist state in Spain. On one hand, this success intensified the hostility, hatred and antagonism of Italy, Spain and Germany against Britain, Russia and France, which became a rehearsing, ground for the outbreak of the Second World War. On the other hand, the war increased the prestige of Italy and Germany and gave them confidence of success in an event of any other war. It's this false confidence from the Spanish Civil war that dragged Hitler to attack Poland, which sparked off the Second World War.

NB. The official British and French position over the Spanish civil war was that of non-intervention to which Italy and Germany had initially consented only to violate it continuously by supporting General

Franco. The Fascist forces destroyed British and other vessels trading with the republican government of Spain. The British and French were disgusted by the violation of the principle of non-intervention and establishment of a Fascist state in Spain.

The official British and French policy of non-intervention over the war was interpreted as a sign of cowardice and fear of the Fascist and Nazi military power. This made the Fascists and Nazis to harden with their policy of aggression that dragged Hitler to attack Poland and set the world a blaze in the holocaust of the Second World War. Besides, the refusal of Britain and France to officially join Russia in the war against General Franco and his Fascists plus Nazis supporters made Russia to feel isolated and loose trust in Britain and France. This is what prompted Russia to sign a non-aggression pact with Germany in August 1939, which morale boosted Hitler to invade Poland and begin the Second World War.

The rise of General Franco and Fascism in Spain consolidated totalitarianism / dictatorship in Europe, alongside Fascism in Italy and Nazism in Germany. This encouraged Hitler to invade Poland with assured support from General Franco and Mussolini hence the outbreak of World War II. -Furthermore, the consolidation of totalitarianism threatened the security of Britain, France and Russia forcing them to take action against Germany after the German occupation of Poland.


Lastly, the immediate event for the outbreak of the Second World War was the German invasion and occupation of Poland on September 1939. After occupying Sudetenland and Czechoslovakia, Hitler stepped up his claims for the Polish Corridor, port of Danzig and Posem. Hitler falsely hoped that Britain and France would not interfere as they had done when he occupied the Rhine lands, Austria and Czechoslovakia. With this false impression, Germany under Hitler attacked Poland from all fronts and almost brought it to ruins. Britain and France gave Hitler an ultimatum to withdraw within 24 hours that Hitler defied. This made Britain and France to declare war on Germany on 3rd September 1939. They were joined by Russia, the United States plus their colonies while Germany was joined by Italy, Japan and their colonies.

NB. It is questionable whether Hitler would have invaded Poland if it were not because of the need to liberate the 2.5 million Germans and territories that were given to Poland by the Versailles settlement of 1919. One can therefore argue that if the Versailles settlement had not forced the 2.5 million Germans and some German territories to Poland's control, Hitler could perhaps not have invaded Poland and the Second World War could not have been inevitable by 1939.